Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 25, 2014

July 22, 2014

GOP Struggles With Fundraising for Women’s Initiatives | Rules of the Game

WVPOL14 012 070414 445x294 GOP Struggles With Fundraising for Womens Initiatives  | Rules of the Game

Capito raised more than her opponent in the race for Senate in West Virginia. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It’s been a promising year for Republican women who have set out to fix their party’s “woman problem,” but not good enough for their bank accounts.

Republicans launched a new crop of super PACs, recruitment programs and messaging campaigns to boost the GOP’s female candidates and win over women who vote. The latest such effort, an unrestricted super PAC unveiled in June by former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, cleared $1 million in its first four weeks.

“We cannot permit liberal orthodoxy to marginalize women or suppress their enthusiasm for our candidates,” declared Fiorina, chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation, in the mission statement for her new Unlocking Potential Project. The Unlocking Potential PAC’s top donors last month were Marmik Oil Co. President Michael Murphy and his wife, Arkansas designer Sydney Murphy, who each gave $500,000. Full story

When Is a Tweet an Ethics Violation? | A Question of Ethics

Q. As a staffer for a Member of the House, one of my responsibilities is to run his official Twitter and Facebook accounts, and I have a question about permissible uses of those accounts. The Member occasionally likes to help political allies by making public endorsements during their campaigns. I figure it is okay to announce these via Twitter as I have seen other Members do it, but another staffer in our office said the rules might not allow it. It’s not really against the rules to tweet endorsements of other candidates, is it?

A. Are there restrictions on members’ use of Twitter? You bet there are.

The restrictions derive from a fundamental principle about the permissible uses of federal funds: “Appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made.” Put another way, when Congress allocates federal funds for a particular purpose, the funds may be used only for such purpose.

This restriction extends to resources purchased with official funds. The House Committee on Ethics has said “official resources of the House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the House,” and not campaign or political purposes. Moreover, the Ethics Committee requires all official resources be used in accordance with the Members’ Handbook, published by the Committee on House Administration.

The rapid rise of social media in recent years has raised new questions about how to apply these rules, many of which were created before social media’s advent. According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of January 2012, more than three quarters of members had official Twitter accounts. Two and a half years later, that figure may be approaching 100 percent.

While the House Ethics Manual does not specifically address the permissible content of members’ official media accounts, the Members’ Handbook does. It allows members to establish “social media accounts,” which the handbook defines as “profiles, pages, channels or any similar presence on third-party sites that allow individuals or organizations to offer information about themselves to the public.” However, and this is important, “Member-controlled content on Social Media Accounts is subject to the same requirements as content on Member websites.”

Specifically, content of websites, and therefore social media accounts, must “be in compliance with Federal law and House Rules and Regulations applicable to official communications and germane to the conduct of the Member’s official and representational duties.” Content must not include “personal … or campaign information” nor “grassroots lobbying or solicit support for a Member’s position.”

Although not specifically addressing social media accounts, the House Ethics Manual states that “the general prohibition against campaign or political use of official resources applies not only to any Member campaign for re-election, but rather to any campaign or political undertaking.”

Taken together, the Ethics Committee guidance and the Member’s Handbook suggest that endorsing campaigns via official social media accounts, such as Twitter, could indeed draw the attention of the Ethics Committee. While the committee has never admonished any member for sending a campaign tweet from an official House Twitter account, you should not interpret this as a license to use official Twitter accounts for non-official purposes. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are still relatively new, and the committee has previously taken action against misuses of older forms of communication. In March 1996, the committee advised a member that he had violated rules governing the use of official resources by using a House fax machine to send a mass communication on House letterhead criticizing a potential campaign opponent.

The safer course, then, is to do what many members are already doing: Use official social media accounts for permissible official purposes, and establish other social media accounts — e.g., personal or campaign accounts — for other purposes.

Notably, the Members’ Handbook’s restrictions on the content of social media accounts do not govern these unofficial accounts. Of course, if you do go that route, it is important to remember to distinguish between official and unofficial accounts.

Specifically, the handbook states that “Members should ensure their social media URLs and account names reflect their position.” Conversely, members’ personal and campaign accounts should not give the impression that they are the members’ official account.

As you can see, in managing your members’ social media accounts, you’ve got your hands full.

C. Simon Davidson is an attorney with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to cdavidson@mcguirewoods.com. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.

July 17, 2014

John Devaney Set to Take Leadership Role at Perkins Coie | Downtown Moves

John Devaney, who will soon become the new managing partner of law firm Perkins Coie, has some big shoes to fill.

The law firm — whose clients include a collection of high-profile Democrats — announced earlier this month the change in the firm’s leadership. Come the new year, Devaney will replace Bob Giles, who has served as chairman for the past 28 years and will still act as an adviser to the firm.

“After being led by a strong leader for 28 years, its going to be a challenge to fill the shoes of someone who has been at the helm of this firm for so long,” Devaney told CQ Roll Call. Full story

July 16, 2014

Who Has Time for Legislating Anyway? | K Street Files

Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services panel, was in a rush to recess a lengthy markup so he and the other lawmakers could make it across the street to the Capitol for evening floor votes.

But Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., pleaded for a few seconds to squeeze in his comments before the gavel.

Even though Hensarling reconvened the markup just after those votes, Scott had somewhere else to be. “Thank you, because I have a fundraiser I’ve got to get to right after,” Scott said in a moment of candor that sent the room into surprised laughter.

Scott’s spokesman Michael Andel noted in an email that members are in town about 2.5 days per week. “That’s not a lot of time to do much of anything,” Andel said.

The episode on June 10 offered a rare glimpse into the reality that members of Congress of both parties face, especially in an election year: the constant tension between raising money to keep their jobs and actually doing their jobs.

The dash for cash is nothing new to elective office, but with the increasing costs of campaigns and the ever-bigger potential threats of outside money flooding into races, lawmakers over schedule their short work weeks in D.C. to hit up stakeholders and lobbyists from dawn until dark.

“There are only so many hours in a day, and when you have to spend an increasing amount of those asking people for cash, something has to give,” said Adam Smith, spokesman for Public Campaign, which advocates for public financing of elections. “And what gives, I think, is the job you’re elected to do.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform recently released a report that seemed to conclude much the same. Led by ex-lawmakers-turned-K-Steeters such as Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, the commission’s June 24 report found members “spend too much time fundraising, which crowds out the time for legislating.”

“The commission decries the inordinate amount of time that members of Congress spend raising money and worry about the effects of such fundraising on the legislative process,” the report stated. “In particular, we fear that the need to raise ever-increasing amounts of campaign funds is crowding out the time that members have to engage in legislating and government oversight, the job they were sent to Washington to perform.”

The bipartisan group recommended Congress set up a task force styled after the 9/11 commission to make policy suggestions, and urged Congress to pass legislation requiring more disclosure of outside political money. The group also suggested Congress impose new restrictions on leadership political action committees, including limiting the funds to political, not personal, activities.

As much as lawmakers may complain, many of them privately, about the crush of pressure to raise money and the need to fork over donations to colleagues to help them advance in party or committee leadership in a sort of pay-to-play process, Congress seems to have little appetite to revamp the system — at least for now.

But the current way makes for a grueling schedule. House Republicans alone, for example, have 10 fundraisers scheduled on Wednesday, while House Democrats have at least five on the docket, according to party committee lists emailed among lobbyists. Senators also have several events on the docket.

That day, lobbyists and lawmakers can start things off with a breakfast at Bullfeathers benefiting Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. And they could end the day in a bipartisan way with a reception for Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., at Legal Seafoods in D.C.

To say nothing of the legislative work taking place on the Capitol campus.

Of course, the overbooked lawmakers and unpredictable congressional calendar can make life plenty difficult for lobbyists, too, who are trying to oblige members’ requests to hold fundraisers.

“Many of these events are scheduled weeks or months in advance, and you just don’t know what the voting or committee schedule will be like,” said Michael Herson, who runs American Defense International and hosts fundraisers. If an event is on the Hill, lawmakers usually can pop in, even briefly, between votes or committee meetings. But when the event is across town, the guest of honor may not make it at all.

But even the best of plans could be easily waylaid. “Votes could blow up the entire event,” Herson said.

Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.

Reforms May Fade, but Voter Anger Won’t | Rules of the Game

Opponents of big money in politics celebrated some small victories lately: A constitutional amendment to curb campaign spending cleared a key Senate committee and was introduced in the House. And a new “super PAC to end all super PACs” raised $5 million in a matter of weeks.

At first glance, such long-shot causes look inevitably doomed to fail. No one really expects two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states to amend the Constitution in an area as disputed as campaign financing. And numerous super PACs bent on banning unrestricted money have come and gone in recent years, most of them now terminated.

But the latest campaign finance push, however impractical or constitutionally suspect, has tapped a well of voter anger that politicians ignore at their peril. Public disgust with Congress, which according to Gallup now enjoys a record-low 7 percent approval rating, may not impact this fall’s midterm elections. But as erstwhile House Majority Leader Eric Cantor discovered in his stunning loss in Virginia’s GOP primary, voter wrath over big money can exact a political price. Cantor’s primary opponent, tea party Republican Dave Brat, had made the majority leader’s cozy Wall Street and special interest ties a central campaign theme. Brat is now trumpeting the $400,000 he’s raised from small donors as evidence that he’s running a “campaign of the people.”

“People think you can’t win on the basis of this issue, and we want to say, ‘Actually, you can,’ ” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor who on May 1 founded the Mayday PAC, a crowdfunded super PAC that will back congressional candidates committed to campaign finance changes. “And we want to do it in a way that surprises Washington, inside the Beltway.”

Lessig has already surprised himself and others by pulling in $1 million in the PAC’s first 13 days, then another $5 million by July 4. In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Lessig said he developed his own open source software to raise the money, since the popular Kickstarter crowdfunding tool lacked a platform for political donations. Mayday PAC has now raised $7.7 million of an anticipated $12 million once matching funds from large donors roll in, probably by the end of this month.

If Lessig hits his $12 million target, Mayday PAC will be among the top five highest-grossing super PACs in this midterm. The American Crossroads super PAC organized by GOP operative Karl Rove, for example, raised just $11 million through June 30 of this year, Federal Election Commission records show. Granted, the conservative super PAC’s social welfare affiliate, known as Crossroads GPS, appears to be raising and spending the largest share of the operation’s money in this election.

Still, Lessig’s anticipated $12 million haul is all the more noteworthy given how many super PACs formed with the aim of ending super PACs have fallen flat in recent years. A whole slew of do-gooder super PACs, many of them inspired by comedian Stephen Colbert’s super PAC contests and spoofs, sprung up in 2012. But virtually all of them, from Citizens Against Super PACs to No Dirty Money Elections, raised virtually no money and closed up shop within a year.

An exception is Friends of Democracy, a super PAC headed by David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund. That PAC raised and spent about $2.5 million in the 2012 elections, and managed to oust eight of the nine candidates it targeted for defeat. In this cycle, Friends of Democracy had raised $2.5 million through the second quarter, and will announce by the end of this month a new slate of state and federal candidates.

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in it, and we’re very excited about the work that Mayday PAC and Larry Lessig are doing,” Donnelly said, noting the two PACs do not compete for donors and will coordinate their efforts. “There’s clearly an appetite for expanding this type of work.”

Lessig has generated media buzz and checks thanks in part to his public persona and promotional savvy. An author, progressive organizer and advocate of Internet deregulation, Lessig’s won backing from such Silicon Valley heavyweights as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. His crowdfunding model — donors were told they would get their money back if the PAC didn’t meet its targets in time — went viral to draw in 53,000 contributors.

The constitutional amendment push has also fueled surprising popular support. The amendment proposed by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall in the Senate and introduced this week in the House by Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., flies in the face of more than one landmark Supreme Court ruling. Republicans deride it as a blatant First Amendment violation.

Some campaign finance experts cast the uphill amendment drive as an ill-advised distraction from more pragmatic changes. Lessig’s Mayday PAC, for one, is focused not on amending the Constitution but on such changes as matching small-dollar donations with public funding. Yet proposals to amend the Constitution are now backed by 16 states and 550 municipalities.

“People are really angry about what’s happening in our democracy,” said Margrete Strand, executive vice president of Public Citizen. The push for an amendment is something that average voters can “understand” and “grab onto,” she added.

To be sure, voters are notoriously fickle when it comes to campaign financing. Gallup’s latest polls on the topic found that half of voters support government funding of elections, and 79 percent support limiting campaign receipts and spending. But Democrats’ perennial assaults on big money have repeatedly failed to help them at the polls.

Lessig has set out to prove the issue can fire up voters as well as donors, and Mayday PAC will announce a slate of at least five federal candidates on July 21. Whatever the merits and demerits of various campaign finance schemes, voters will ultimately have the last word.

“The only way to prove this is to do it,” said Lessig. “We can have all sorts of polling and science and focus groups. But the thing that counts in Washington is victory.”

Eliza Newlin Carney is a senior staff writer covering political money and election law for CQ Roll Call.

July 15, 2014

Former Hill Staffer Tom Downs Heads to Venable | Downtown Moves

Venable law firm has added yet another former Capitol Hill staffer to its practice. The firm announced Tuesday that Tom Downs, a former chief of staff and legislative aide, will be joining the firm from Patton Boggs (now Squire Patton Boggs).

Before joining Patton Boggs, Downs served as chief of staff for former Rep. George Hochbrueckner, D-N.Y. He also worked as a legislative aide for former Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., who chaired the House Budget Committee.

In a statement announcing the hire, Venable touted Downs as an addition to their “deep bench of Capitol Hill veterans,” which includes former Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Andrew Olmem, who was chief counsel and deputy staff director at the Senate Banking Committee during the 2008 financial crisis.

“The firm has an all-star roster of former government officials — the very advisers who understand and can guide clients through the most challenging and sensitive legislative and executive branch issues,” Downs said in a statement.

Downs also brings that insider knowledge to the table in his new position as a partner in legislative and government affairs in D.C.

According to Venable’s statement, he will be working with “government entities, corporations, nonprofits and educational institutions” on issues pertaining to congressional funding and public-private partnerships.

Budget Act Anniversary Prompts Introspection | Procedural Politics

Any anniversary divisible by ten, whether of a country, institution or historic event prompts a spate of news articles, speeches and special commemorations that inevitably pose the question: What does it mean today?

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on July 12, 1974, is no exception. The Bipartisan Policy Center (where I am a resident scholar) marked the anniversary this week with a symposium, “The Congressional Budget Act at 40: Midlife Crisis?” I half-seriously suggested amending the title by adding, “or Terminal Illness?” Judging from comments made at a recent congressional hearing on budget reform, the current process is badly broken and in need of either substantial renovation or immediate demolition.

Any reassessment of the Budget Act requires understanding what Congress originally had in mind when it superimposed two new committees, a joint office, and an entirely new process on top of existing authorizing and appropriations processes. We can then determine how well the Act has met those expectations, as well as subsequent demands placed on it, over the last four decades.

As a staffer for a prominent member of the House Rules Committee where the final budget act language was hammered out in 1973-74, I observed two distinct expectations for the process emerging from liberal and conservative ranks. That produced a curious convergence of overwhelming bipartisan support for the Act though both camps would later see their hopes dashed.
Liberals saw the new process as a way to break the stranglehold conservative appropriators had on spending levels so that Democratic majorities in Congress could set their own priorities, independent of the president’s budget. Conservatives, including President Nixon, saw the process as a device for asserting control over the entire budget, making it easier to reduce spending and deficits.

Allen Schick, who helped shape the Budget Act a Congressional Research Service staffer at the time, later came down squarely in the middle of the two camps in his definitive work on congressional budgeting, “Congress and Money” (1980). He correctly points out that the budget law as drafted was fiscally neutral. It had no bias for or against more spending or lower deficits. The process was whatever Congress decided to do with it each year.

But that neutral statutory scheme did not last long as deficits continued to mount through the 1980s and the public became more concerned about where it all was taking the nation. The 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act put a definite anti-deficit spin on the Act by establishing a downward glide-path in deficits culminating in a balanced budget. When that didn’t work, the Act was further amended in 1990 by the Budget Enforcement Act to establish discretionary spending ceilings plus a pay-as-you go requirement to offset entitlement benefit increases and tax cuts so they would be deficit neutral.

The brief period of budget surpluses at the turn of the century diverted attention from the necessity of such mechanisms and Congress hasn’t had the will or inclination since to confront the real source of reemerging deficits — the explosive growth in entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security which comprise 65 percent of the budget. Instead, the two parties argue over appropriate levels of defense versus domestic discretionary spending which account for just 29 percent of the budget. Those are the fights, along with politically charged policy riders, that have so paralyzed Congress that it can’t adopt a final budget resolution or separately enact any of the 12 regular appropriations bills.

One thing the two sides can agree on is that the process must be broken because it is not advancing either party’s causes, outcomes or public reputation. The budget process has always been a convenient whipping boy at such junctures, especially since those wielding the whips are not about to turn them collectively on the real perpetrators of dysfunction.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

July 11, 2014

McKenna Long & Aldridge Hires Gen. Walter Sharp To Extend Asian Presence | Downtown Moves

Moving to expand its clout in Asia, law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge has hired retired Gen. Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, a well-seasoned Korea expert who once served as commander of U.S. forces in South Korea from 2008 to 2011. Sharp will serve as a strategic adviser for the firm as it continues to establish offices throughout Asia.

Sharp’s longstanding relationships with major Korean corporations — as well as his military career in the country — will help develop the firm in Korea, McKenna Chairman Jeff Haidet said in a statement announcing Sharp’s hire.

Full story

By Cady Zuvich Posted at 1:09 p.m.
Downtown Moves

July 8, 2014

Did House Travel Disclosure Rules Change? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I am hoping you can clear up some confusion about the controversy over news that the House Ethics Committee changed the rules to limit Members’ disclosure of gifts of free travel on annual financial disclosure forms. The reactions seemed all over the place. Some said that it was a big step backwards. Others said that nothing really changed. So, what’s the story?

A. Last week, travel disclosure requirements for members and staff did indeed make news when National Journal published an article titled, “Congress Quietly Deletes a Key Disclosure of Free Trips Lawmakers Take.” According to the article, the House Committee on Ethics reversed three decades of precedent by eliminating the requirement that privately sponsored travel be included on members’ and staffers’ annual financial disclosure forms.

Uproar ensued. Ethics advocates cried foul. Bloggers blogged. Nancy Pelosi vowed to push for legislation if the Ethics Committee did not reverse its “new rule.”

But, did the committee really create a new rule?

To answer that, it helps to understand the financial disclosure process. Financial disclosure by members of Congress is governed by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. The general idea is to enable the public to monitor potential financial conflicts of interest for members and staffers. To that end, every year members and certain senior staffers must file financial disclosure forms, revealing things such as assets, liabilities and significant transactions made during the year. The forms also require disclosure of any gifts received, including payment of travel expenses by outside sources.

For years, the House Ethics Committee has published guidance on how to fill out the forms. For trips paid for by outside sources, the guidance lists the types of trips that must be included and those that need not be. Historically, the guidance has stated that it is not necessary to include several kinds of trips that already must be disclosed on other publicly filed forms.

For example, the guidance has not required filers to include on their forms certain trips paid for by foreign government entities, which are separately reported under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act. Similarly, the forms do not require disclosure of political or campaign trips paid for by a federal political organization, if reported separately as an expense under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

In this year’s guidance, the Ethics Committee added another type of trip that may be excluded: trips taken in connection with official duties. Again, such trips already are required to be disclosed elsewhere. In fact, the law requires that the trips be pre-approved by the Ethics Committee and then disclosed to the clerk of the House within 15 days of the trip. The information that must be disclosed within 15 days is much more detailed than the information on annual financial disclosure forms, and is in fact available to the public in a searchable database maintained by the clerk on the same website as the financial disclosure forms.

Late last week, however, the Ethics Committee issued a memorandum announcing that it was reversing its new guidance. The memo explained the initial decision not to require officially connected travel to be disclosed on annual forms had been made to promote efficiency, as one of several changes recommended by non-partisan, professional staff in collaboration with the clerk’s office when developing the new online filing system introduced early this year. “The additional reporting of privately sponsored travel on financial disclosure reports,” the memorandum stated, “is duplicative of information the filer has already reported and that is made publicly available in the same place online as financial disclosure reports.”

In 2013, for example, the committee reviewed 2,651 financial disclosure forms. Valuable time and resources, the memorandum said, was required to identify and contact any filers who inadvertently failed to include on their forms privately sponsored travel that they had already properly disclosed elsewhere. Moreover, the memorandum stated, requiring privately sponsored travel to be included on financial disclosure forms essentially required the committee to review the same private trip three times: once before the trip for purposes of approval, again after the trip in the post-travel paperwork and then once more, in reviewing the financial disclosure forms. Eliminating the disclosure on financial disclosure forms would have reduced this redundancy.

Nevertheless, “in light of feedback we have received from our fellow Members” the committee decided to reinstitute the requirement to include the trips on annual financial disclosure forms. The committee encourages anyone looking for information about such trips to continue “to use the searchable online database of detailed post-travel filing on the Clerk’s website,” which, compared to the annual forms, contains more information more contemporaneously.

Even before the reversal last week, it was not clear whether anything significant had changed. Now, it is completely clear. Nothing has.

C. Simon Davidson is an attorney with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to cdavidson@mcguirewoods.com. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.

New FCC Disclosures Reveal Underground Election | Rules of the Game

A trove of new public records recently opened up by the Federal Communications Commission sheds light on the ways undisclosed political ads are creating an underground midterm election that’s increasingly hidden from view.

It’s already well known that unreported political spending is rising, thanks in part to Supreme Court rulings that have nullified campaign finance limits on several fronts. As of April 30, undisclosed political spending was three times higher than at the same point in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But new FCC records, which on July 1 vastly expanded the number of TV stations that must post their political ad files online, offer concrete metrics to document what the Sunlight Foundation’s Kathy Kiely calls the nation’s “gross political product.”

“It really has demonstrated how incessant the advertising is, and how much ‘off-the-radar’ political advertising has been spent,” said Kiely, Sunlight’s managing editor.

The Sunlight Foundation played a lead role in urging the FCC to require full online disclosure of political ad buys. Long required on paper, the political ad files were first made available online in 2012 by the four major broadcast affiliates in the nation’s top 50 markets, about 230 stations. Now 2,000 stations are filing disclosures online, virtually a tenfold increase.

With the help of a new tracking tool, researchers at Sunlight and other investigative outfits have started poring over the disclosures. These show for the first time just how much political air time is being bought by organizations that don’t report their activities to the Federal Election Commission — typically tax-exempt social welfare and trade groups that need not reveal their donors.

Among Sunlight’s findings: In the North Carolina Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and her GOP challenger Thom Tillis, 65 percent of the ads supporting Tillis or attacking Hagan were not reported to the FEC. That’s because the ads, aired on WBTV Channel 3 in the state’s most costly media market, consisted of “issue” messages that didn’t directly advocate for a candidate’s election or defeat.

“Here is one station in one race,” said Kiely. “And if that is indicative, it’s telling us that almost all the early money spent so far is outside money, and that the FEC — the agency set up to create campaign accountability after Watergate — is not seeing half the money that is going into the political system.”

It’s a measure of the trend toward underground political spending that the Crossroads operation launched by GOP strategist Karl Rove is heavily lopsided in this cycle toward its non-disclosing tax-exempt arm. The group’s American Crossroads super PAC and its social welfare arm, known as Crossroads GPS, have together spent and reserved air time for about $23 million worth of political ads over the summer and into the fall, according to news reports and to sources familiar with the organization.

But less than a third of that — $6.5 million — is being spent by American Crossroads, which reports its activities to the FEC. The majority, some $17.3 million, is being spent by Crossroads GPS, which is exempt from disclosure rules.

It’s all legal, because Crossroads GPS and other politically active tax-exempt groups are airing “issue” messages that ostensibly constitute advocacy, not election activity. But such ads can be awfully hard to tell from campaign ads.

One North Carolina spot by Concerned Veterans for America, a social welfare group heavily funded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, spotlighted the scandal involving health care delays at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Hagan has said she supports a bill to address the delays.)

The ad featured an ominous soundtrack, unflattering black-and-white images of Hagan and of President Barack Obama, and a voice-over intoning that Obama “won’t hold the VA accountable,” and that Hagan “can, but she’s done nothing, putting her loyalty to her party and the president ahead of America’s veterans.”

Advocates of the First Amendment argue that such ads are a form of constitutionally protected public education, and the donors behind them have a right to remain anonymous. Outspoken Republicans on Capitol Hill opposed the FCC’s move toward greater disclosure and regard the push for transparency as a move to silence political adversaries and tread on free speech.

But Kiely says the disclosures offer valuable information about the increasingly obscure world of election spending: “I think we know a little bit more about what we didn’t know. There are still too many obstacles between voters and the information they need to make informed decisions at the polls. But this is progress.”

Eliza Newlin Carney is a senior staff writer covering political money and election law for CQ Roll Call.

July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby Ruling Fuels Amendment Push

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In its recent ruling to confer religious liberties on closely held corporations, the Supreme Court makes no mention of its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

Yet the high court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruling grows directly out of its Citizens United decision to reject limits on independent corporate political spending. And the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling deepens the rift on Capitol Hill between liberals agitating for limits on corporate power and conservatives railing against government intrusions on free speech.

Senate Democrats have already scheduled a vote on a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states the power to restrict political spending. Such an amendment directly challenges both Citizens United and the court’s landmark Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which in 1976 upheld limits on campaign contributions but found caps on political spending unconstitutional.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has stoked liberal anger over the court’s expanding “corporate personhood” doctrine, which critics on the left argue threatens a host of environmental, civil rights and consumer safety laws. Now some Democrats on Capitol Hill are considering additional amendments that go beyond campaign financing to more explicitly spell out that corporations are not people. Full story

July 1, 2014

Defense Signing Statement Reveals President’s Prescience | Procedural Politics

One of my first columns for Roll Call was about the furor over President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements (“The Problem Isn’t Signing Statements; It’s Enforcing the Laws,” Aug. 14, 2006). I was reacting to an American Bar Association task force report that concluded that such statements, issued when a president signs a bill into law, are “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”

The report went on to recommend that the president veto any law he considers unconstitutional and that Congress enact legislation requiring the president to provide Congress with copies of all signing statements along with the reasons and legal basis for any provisions of law he claims authority to disregard, ignore or refuses to enforce. Moreover, Congress was urged to give itself standing in the courts to obtain a declaratory judgment on the legality of signing statements. The ABA’s House of Delegates subsequently endorsed the report.

Full story

June 27, 2014

Mercury Public Affairs Adds Chris Mottola | Downtown Moves

Mercury Public Affairs added to its wave of high-profile hires made within the past year Friday, announcing that GOP media consultant Chris Mottola will join the firm’s team, bringing his consulting company Chris Mottola Inc. along with him.

“Joining Mercury affords me the chance to work with a truly smart group of people who are experts in research, and understand how to translate the numbers attached to policy and politics into great creative content,” Mottola said in a statement.

The addition of Mottola, the late Sen. Arlen Specter’s longtime media consultant, continues the public firm’s expansion as several notable figures, including former diplomat Erin Pelton, have been hired within the past few months. With Mercury looking to hone its media capability, Mottola will head the paid media operations firm from his headquarters in Philadelphia.

Mottola’s past clients include such Republican heavy-hitters as former President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mottola is a national award-winning producer of campaign ads, and has owned his media consulting firm for 28 years. His work for Specter took place in the Pennsylvania senator’s stints as both Republican and Democrat.

“Chris Mottola’s decade of work in campaign ads and political consulting is known throughout the United States,” CEO Kieran Mahoney said in a statement on the firm’s new hire. “We have worked with Chris for many years, and have seen his talents contribute to myriad successful campaign wins.”

By Cady Zuvich Posted at 4:31 p.m.
Downtown Moves

June 26, 2014

Coffees, Cocktails for Cantor Staffers

cantor presser005 061114 1 445x296 Coffees, Cocktails for Cantor Staffers

Cantor, center, gave his staff nearly two months to find jobs before he officially leaves leadership on July 31. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reality has set in for aides to outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and it looks something like this: coffee and cocktails with headhunters, lobbyists, chiefs of staff, old friends and business contacts. In short, anyone who can help in the job search.

The Virginia Republican’s leadership aides will be out of work by the end of July, setting off a job-search effort that Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, have helped spearhead since Cantor lost on June 10.

“Obviously there has been a lot more coffee drunk and lunches eaten than before that primary,” K Street recruiter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group told CQ Roll Call. “No doubt that people are now reaching out to their librarians and bartenders and rabbis to seek advice.”

Finding a new job can be grueling, even with a plum résumé, the help of a high-profile boss and a vast network of Washington insiders. Full story

June 24, 2014

Betsy Mullins Named President and CEO of Women’s Campaign Fund, She Should Run

The Women’s Campaign Fund and its nonprofit arm She Should Run announced Tuesday that Betsy Mullins will be its new CEO and president, directing the sister organizations in their shared mission of increasing women’s political participation at all levels of government.

“WCF has a proud legacy of bipartisan innovation,” said Mullins in a statement on joining the organization. “I look forward to expanding on that legacy and applying 21st century tools to building a government that harnesses the full potential of our nation’s diverse population.” Siobhan Bennett, who previously led the fund, stepped down in November.

Georgia Berner, chairwoman of the pair organizations’ board of directors, announced in a statement that Mullins’ hiring comes after an “exhaustive search.” Full story

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